For those of you unfamiliar with MacGregor Burns, I’ll summarize the experience. Mac is based in Baltimore, but he travels the country with a dog named Sylvie and a guitar he got from a thrift store. He mostly plays living rooms. Those are the static elements, everything else is up to chance. I’ve seen him do sets of absurdist comedy, I’ve seen him drop trou to win over an unkind audience, I’ve seen him rope in local musician friends for singalong jams, and I’ve seen him make it all work. Every now and then, he lowers his guard enough to play a song and that’s when things get interesting.
For all the jokes and nonsense banter, Mac’s music is grounded and harsh. His blues-like guitar lines are stark and operate on their own broken sense of groove. His lyrics veer into yelping and howling with no clear logic, and the words that come through are dark. Sometimes his eyes are shut tight as if in a trance, sometimes they’re wide open and he stares down everybody in front of him. Then he stops playing, the spell is broken, and his guitar becomes an oar as he pantomimes being in a rowboat.
Mac’s new album is called “Chill Sade.” It’s more fleshed out than his previous works, but only ever so slightly with light keyboard tones and sparse drum machine beats. The results are interesting, if somewhat mixed. Some of the tracks come off awkward as Mac can’t quite catch up to the beat. But many of the new songs are warmer than ever and successfully fuse the two halves of MacGregor’s personality. “That Woolly Moon,” for instance, has an optimistic sing-along vibe, while “The Wild Frontier” maximizes the new setup across a three part epic.
"Chill Sade" is uneven overall, but it’s the kind of experiment I love to hear. MacGregor Burns pushes himself to write in a new format, investigate new subjects, and be more than another brilliant performer that falls short on record. It’s a wandering, frequently brilliant journal entry of an album from a man that spends most of his life on the road.
"Brothers Kardell’s sounds on SoundCloud" by Brothers Kardell
I’m going to confess something right now. It might discredit me completely, but it’s been gnawing at my soul for some time and I need to get it out there. I… have a music degree. Please understand, I mean no harm. I thought it was a natural thing to do - I love music, ergo, I should go to school for it. I found out that one does NOT study music if they want to work with music, much like future lawyers don’t begin as paralegals. The music school mindset is one of a monastic adherence to Doing Things Right. Smooth and tight are the orders of the day. Want to rock the boat? Try writing a progression in fourths. It’s a dream background for future accountants. As far as getting people’s attention goes, you’re better off at the psychology building.
Except sometimes it works in the opposite way. Every now and again a couple of weirdos slip into the classically-trained diamond factory. They come out with impeccable ears, clinical technique, and a healthy disrespect for stylistic rigidity. Our local example are the Brothers Kardell, a couple of Peabody Institute brats and IRL brothers writing rhythmic etudes based on everything they ever heard. Their music blurs the lines between sheer brilliance and sheer trolling. Soaring contrapuntal melodies crash into samples chopped and jackhammered beyond recognition. Dad rock guitars flail for respect over farty synth parties. Anyone can upset a yoga class with Skrillex breaks, but few would do it in compound meters.
Their stuff is calculated to get under your skin and dare you to keep listening in a way I haven’t heard since that Unicorns album 10 years ago. It’s ingenious and infectious and wild, so wild that it exists only in the outer frontiers of SoundCloud. But I feel so strongly about the Super Kardellio Bros. that I’m going to write them up anyway. 27 big smirking, caffeine stained teeth. Our first perfect score. Congratulations, boys!
"Beautiful, Peaceful, Ghosts" EP by the Escape Artist
DC cranial rock quartet The Escape Artist went through a watershed moment a couple of years ago. After spending the better part of a decade playing algebraic post-hardcore, they took a brief hiatus. They rested. They got married and had kids. Then they reemerged as a calmer and, dare I say, more carefree sort of band. The cragged melodies spread out into rolling hills, the clamorous music became as urgent as a stargazing session on a summer night. The band that once spotlighted the difficult and uncomfortable seems to have achieved sincere, cosmic peace with themselves.
The Escape Artist’s new EP in this style is called “Beautiful, Peaceful, Ghosts.” Like its name implies, these 4 songs are gentle and focused on setting a mood. The long notes glide through sparkling reverb, while the vocals are whispered as often as they’re sung. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the level of innovation at work. When the band slowly constructs and dissolves echoes on “Eta Carinae” or creates cathedrals of sound on the title track, they’re firmly comfortable in their new skins and achieving something advanced and novel. They’re still challenging their listeners, albeit in a more patient way. The payoff is worth it.
In honor of our 21st review (and because everybody thinks our Twitter account is a spambot), we’ve made an official Facebook page. Please check it out and maybe even give us a “like” (but only if you really want to).
Sun Club are a self described indie pop band from Annapolis. Jury’s out on whether that’s a deliberate misnomer or a vague guiding ideal. They’re indie pop to the extent that they’re an independent band playing catchy music, but heart-on-sleeve sighing this is not. Sun Club are closer in sound to the post-hardcore cabaret of the Blood Brothers, or the abstract island music of Maps and Atlases. They’re one of those big-hearted bands that keep their ears open to anything, and want to express everything they hear in the context of loud, maniacal rock.
That’s not to say that these guys are spastic. Their recent self-titled album is wisely arranged around the high energy rushes and the quick breathers. There’s an odd swing to the rhythms, which gives the songs a loose party vibe. That makes the band’s more subtle elements that much more powerful. When they stop on a dime or launch into a heavy, noisy breakdown, it’s completely unexpected. Bizarre song titles like “Weak Friend Winter Club” and “Sand is Overrated” only add to the experience, because really, who listens to this kind of stuff for the lyrics? Sun Club are a disorienting kind of fun with serious musical chops. Check ‘em out.
"Wish It Stopped" split by Infinity Crush and Abi Reimold
Infinity Crush and Abi Reimold are two bedroom folk artists from Philadelphia with a new split cassette called “Wish It Stopped.” Their common traits are their lovely voices and deeply melancholy music. Both artists have a tendency toward mysterious, oblong ballads, but they distinguish themselves with Infinity Crush preferring bare intimacy to Reimold’s worldly song cycles. They complement each other well on a release exploring ritualized loneliness and supernatural desolation.
Infinity Crush is the more immediate of the two, with concise songs and desperate lyrics that read like diary entries or unsent letters. Howls and gasps punctuate the vocals for a haunting effect that makes the songs seem like ghostly transmissions from another time and place. In contrast, Reimold’s pieces are long explorations similar to Tim Buckley’s “Lorca.” Her contributions are less driven by lyrics and melodies and more by unique compositional elements, such as structures built around tempo and volume. Both acts explore dark emotional centers with thrilling creativity, two things I value a great deal that made “Wish It Stopped” an addictive listen for me.
Thirteen Towers are a ska band from NoVA. Their debut release, though, is all punk. But live, they’re a ska band… except when the horn section can’t make it, in which case they play punk. I razz because I love. Thirteen Towers have one of those scrappy stories of perseverence and prolific Craigslisting that I live to promote here at 27teethdc. What began as a desire to make immediate, anthemic music went through 6 years of development hell with all its earnestness intact. Thirteen Towers finally released their debut, appropriately titled, “We Don’t Care.” It’s filled with high 90s pop punk, which they try to perform with horns whenever they can. If that’s too confusing for you, please consult the name of the EP.
On record, the band specializes in the energetic, vaguely theatrical sounds dormant since the days of Phantasmagoria. The songs are fast, but overwhelmingly tuneful. They’re crammed with all the melodies and musical transitions that three and a half minutes can carry, including a few much appreciated Matt Freeman-style bass solos. The lyrics are the blend of suburban boredom mixed with hold-nothing-back honesty that once put this music in the backdrop of an era. It all takes me back to Saturday nights spent on hold with Capital Radio trying to get them to play more Ten Foot Pole. Thirteen Towers are cool enough to post the “We Don’t Care” EP as a free download, so go check it out at http://thirteentowers.com/.
Leonard Friend (a.k.a. Alex Feder, a.k.a. 1st chair Enrique Iglesias stunt guitarist) wants you to know that he loves pop. I mean, REALLY. loves. pop. I mean, he nearly lost it after Whitney died. I mean, he has vivid heterosexual fantasies while listening to Annie Lennox. He dreams of posthumously trending on Twitter, re-releasing his greatest hits, and coming back as a hologram. He also has expert skills with synthesizers and falsetto vocals, and he knows his way around a new jack swing beat like a wizened old record collector. His LXLF EP approaches Kanye West levels of geekdom over and desperation for the pop star lifestyle. Leonard Friend doesn’t mince words, he loves music, fame, Gatorade, sex, and Tylenol, in that order.
And why shouldn’t he? Pop has never been and never should be for the uptight. It’s a style best experienced by the reptilian parts of the brain deep within a club-induced haze. It should be salacious and unambiguous enough to incite outrage by churches and politicians. Musicality is a nice afterthought though, and fortunately. Mr. Friend delivers plenty of that. The accompaniment is overloaded with just as many details and allusions as the lyrics, whether it’s retro-futurism, Babyface-style funk, or rock/R&B hybrids borrowed from Pharrell Williams. It’s a little odd to see stuff so simultaneously brainy and unabashed, but whatever, there’s nothing to hide here but quality songs. Leonard Friend exists to make us all a little more at ease with ourselves.
Twee is a lot like the blues (stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this). It doesn’t celebrate certain feelings so much as it chases them away. It’s no coincidence that twee’s elder statesmen are miserablists like Stuart Murdoch and Eugene Kelly. Even an outwardly positive guy like Calvin Johnson uses precocious campfire music to accentuate the dark corners of his mind. This isn’t music for happy people, it’s music for people who run to fun like it’s a dissociative drug. For better or worse, its poppiness gave it crossover potential and “Juno” made it ubiquitous. It’s a norm’s game now, the soundtrack of a million suburban ice cream parlors, and we all have to deal with it.
Frederick’s Ghost Hotel make an interesting entrance into this setting with their album, “Do You Feel It.” They seem wise enough to study up on their genre, and their boy/girl vocals and shimmering accompaniment are astute additions. Their peak moments are everything twee should be - melodious voices singing odes to their emotions and the monolithic world outside themselves. Ghost Hotel’s songcraft is smart and varied, at times too much for its own good. For example, the dance-punk of “Howard Hughes, Captain of the Industry” is a little dated, while the soaring electronic pop of “Simple Fiction” would make an incredible single… for a completely different band. Nevertheless, this is an infectious first release from artists working at a refreshing level of sincerity and talent.
Davey Brown is DC’s closest spiritual relative to Blaze Foley, the hard living Austin icon whose attempts to put out his recordings met one legendary catastrophe after another. Davey has yet to see his masters seized by the DEA, stolen by a car thief, or destroyed in a flood. But his official debut keeps getting delayed again and again for logistical reasons all too familiar to anybody that ever sat down to track a tune. That’s a shame because Davey’s a damn fine songwriter. His working class country punk is honest and gutsy, and his frayed singing is downright visceral. Perhaps it’s fitting that his only circulating release at the moment is a punched up bootleg of an opening set at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
Davey’s “Live” EP showcases six of his solo hits played with a pickup band featuring Typefighter's Ryan McLaughlin and Will Waikart, along with longtime collaborator Jackson Styron. Given the circumstances, the supporting players do a surprisingly smooth job of fleshing out the music. “John Grady” becomes a driving Uncle Tupelo-style rocker, while the deadpan humor of “The Whiskey Talkin'” finds its home in the upbeat arrangement heard here. This accentuates the contrast between the guitar and voice ballads, and the EP versions of “Embers” and “The Fire Inside” are particularly moving. The frustration sets in at the live-ness of it all. The thin bass, muddled guitars, and show stopping explanation of where to find the music online all hurt the replay value. Ultimately these are the minor gripes of a fan that wants more of his favorite artists. Davey Brown's “Live” EP is worth picking up, at least until he puts out the real thing.